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Published: Saturday, 10/27/2012

Shirley Flanner, 1928-2012: Spanish teacher beloved by students

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Shirley Flanner, who for 30 years brought flair to her teaching of Spanish at Start High School, died Tuesday in Toledo Hospital. She was 84.

She suffered cardiac arrest, her son, George, said. She lived since February, 2011, with her son and his wife, Grace, in their Ottawa Hills home. She was a longtime resident of Hargo Road in West Toledo.

Mrs. Flanner turned down promotion offers through the decades.

“She never wanted to go to the [Toledo Public Schools] administration building because she loved the kids so much,” her son said.

More than a few students took up teaching and languages “because she so impressed them with the subject matter,” her son said.

Learning Spanish lyrics to songs by ABBA or the Bee Gees or the pop act of the day wouldn’t be out of place in Mrs. Flanner’s classroom. She organized student trips to Spain and went as a chaperone. She retired in 1995.

Early in her career, she casually expressed a desire to spend a summer of study in Spain. Without her knowledge, students washed cars and held rummage sales and came to her home with a check — and a cake.

“You wanted to be in her classroom. She was fun. She taught well,” said Frank Fischer, a student in the mid-1960s who became a close friend. “She was an incredible person. She found fun and happiness in almost everything.”

She took a keen interest in students and their lives, and if they were having a rough time outside the classroom, she encouraged them “not to be discouraged by the circumstances they were experiencing at home,” son George said.

“My mom would step in and take them alongside as friends and something closer than students, and become their mentor and kind of mother — or father.”

Mr. Fischer and his siblings were raised by a single mother. Mrs. Flanner began teaching in the mid-1960s during a divorce and, as a single mother, worked at least two other jobs to support the family.

“She was the Auntie Mame of my life,” said Mr. Fischer, now a television and movie producer. “I was like an extended family member.”

Her brother, William Blinn, a longtime screenwriter and producer, knew Mr. Fischer through that friendship and brought him to Hollywood to work on his TV series, Fame.

“I give her total credit,” Mr. Fischer said.

Mrs. Flanner was born in 1928, to Pearl and Clare Blinn. Her father was a partner in the Home Builders Supply Co. She was a graduate of DeVilbiss High School and attended Denison University, where in 1947 she was initiated into Sigma Delta Pi, the national Spanish honorary society.

She completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Toledo. As she worked on her master’s degree — which she also received from UT — she took a six-week study trip to Mexico.

The 1912 sinking of the Titanic captured her interest, and she collected books and articles and memorabilia about the tragedy. In 1996, as a 68th birthday gift, her brother paid for her passage on an Atlantic cruise that was to accompany the raising — ultimately unsuccessful — of a length of the Titanic’s hull. While aboard, she spoke with a Titanic survivor, who was 18 months old at the sinking, and got her autograph.

She was an ardent follower of singer Robert Goulet, and liked to spend time at the family cottage on Devil’s Lake in Michigan.

She was formerly married to the late George Flanner.

In recent years, three of her four children died — Denison Sue Dutton, Kelleigh Flanner, and William Flanner.

“How do you cope with that?” her oldest son, George, asked. “How do you count the blessings you have left and focus on those?”

During the visit to California last year to visit her brother, Mr. Fischer asked her how she was doing. She replied, “ ‘You just keep moving,’ ” Mr. Fischer recalled.

Surviving are her son, George C. Flanner, Jr.; brother, William Blinn; 11 grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday in the Newcomer Funeral Home. Services will start at 11 a.m. Tuesday in St. Matthew's Episcopal Church.

The family suggests tributes to the church.

Contact Mark Zaborney at mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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